Capitalizing on Food Waste

New Ipswich: Distribution Company markets food dehydrator made in South Korea

By Ashley Saari
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

People are becoming increasingly aware of the ecological benefits of not tossing out materials such as paper, glass, plastic and cardboard. But how many think about recycling food waste?

Most don’t, and those that do tend to use it for composting. The decomposition of food waste, however, does have an effect on the environment. When the food breaks down, the process releases methane gas. But most people, and many companies, don’t think about that before throwing away wasted food. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 5 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. And, according to the EPA, food waste is the largest percentage of waste going into landfills at 21 percent.

But Butch Maki’s New Ipswich-based distribution business has seen a growing interest on the part of restaurants, municipalities and school districts in turning the tide.

Maki, the owner of Integrated Veterans Services, acts as a distributor of both information and green technology products. The company Maki started in 2010 employs only a handful of full-time employees, mostly Maki’s family members, and about 40 commission-based salespeople who work across the country. IVS operates out of warehouses on Tricnit Road in New Ipswich and Santa Fe, N.M., with sales offices in California.

One of IVS’s featured products is the Ecovim Organic Dehydrator — a machine that reduces food waste by up to 93 percent in weight and volume by removing the moisture from it and creating a mulch-like product. That waste can then be used, much like compost, as an organic additive for landscaping or as animal food. Once mixed in with the soil, the mulch rehydrates and finishes decomposing naturally. Before it’s rehydrated, the mulch has been sterilized. It’s stable and can be stored for months at a time without beginning to smell or attracting pests. It can also be packed into pellets and used as a fuel source.

When Maki first heard of the technology in 2012,, he wasn’t particularly interested in distributing it, he said. But his wife and daughter, both employees of the company, saw the potential value in it, as they began researching and learned of impending legislation that would encourage states surrounding New Hampshire start to invest in this technology. And as Maki learned more about it, he saw the intrinsic value of what the dehydrator does.

“Rotting garbage produces methane gas, which is 20 times more efficient [at trapping heat] as a green house gas than [carbon dioxide]. When you consider you’re taking the methane gas, which is very potent, out of the environment, and reducing the amount of trucks trucking the garbage away, we’re really making an impact,” said Maki.

IVS has been targeting the municipal and education market in states surrounding New Hampshire to expand the usage of the organic dehydrator, as New England states begin to crack down on the disposal of organic garbage waste for large organic waste generators. High-volume producers, such as schools and restaurants, are beginning to invest in the technology to avoid increasing costs of disposal and to meet goals for diverting organic waste from landfills.

Beginning this year, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will be prohibiting the disposal of organic garbage waste in landfills for all organic waste generators producing more than 2,000 pounds of waste per week — which will affect around 3,000 Massachusetts entities. Vermont has the same law, while other surrounding states are initiating goals for diverting organic waste from landfills.

N.H. State Rep. Kermit Williams (D-Wilton) said there is no current legislation before the N.H. House of Representatives dealing with limiting food waste to landfills. The state did pass a bill a few years ago that set a target for reducing total solid waste in the state by 40 percent, said Williams.

“I think that it would be a great idea,” commented Williams, referring to a bill limiting food waste from large organic waste generators. He pointed out that private entities that voluntarily reduce waste can see economic benefit from avoiding disposal fees, and that there are alternative uses for the byproduct, including converting it to biodeisel, alcohol, fertilizer or burning fuel.

However, if New Hampshire implemented a limit on food waste, he would rather see a bill that encourages waste reduction, rather than requiring it, he said, especially since enforcement comes with a cost.

“Every department in the New Hampshire government [is] stretched pretty thin, and theyget nervous when you ask them to do anything new, unless it comes with funding,” said Williams. “So I’m sure there would be an immediate concern as to how we’d pay for it.”

Williams suggested that instead of a law creating a requirement for diverting waste, he would rather see a tax incentive or other “brownie points” for voluntarily reducing food waste.

Maki’s New Hampshire business would surely benefit. Since IVS first started distributing the dehydrator, Maki said it’s been a portion of their business that’s grown exponentially. In 2013, the value of the units sold increased by 10 times over 2012 , said Maki, and even though they are in the first half of 2014, IVS has already made two-thirds of the income from its distribution of dehydrators that it did in 2013.

The machines vary in size and power, with the smallest able to dehydrate up to 66 pounds of food in about nine hours, and the largest industrial machines able to handle up to 3,300 pounds of food at a time. The units range in price from just under $20,000 to $333,000.

It’s a small but growing market, said Maki. The dehydrators are made in South Korea, and most of the approximately 2,000 models in use throughout the world are in Asia. Only about 150 are in use in the United States, said Maki, since there are only three American companies that have the right to distribute the equipment, including IVS, which is the largest distributor. It’s a trend that Maki says is only growing, not only because of state and federal mandates, but the awareness of the public about environmental impacts of waste.

“The sustainability movement is growing very rapidly, and people are becoming very aware of climate change,” said Maki. “The big hotels, in cities like Las Vegas, Boston and Philadelphia, are really pushing to become green. The conventions that they’re courting are demanding it.”

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